UMass could have a Big (East) decision in its future

Last modified: Monday, December 17, 2012
There’s a decent chance that a Big East invitation is somewhere in the University of Massachusetts’ athletic department’s future.

After years and years of hoping and dreaming about playing in the Big East, UMass is closer than ever to it actually happening.

Enough dominoes have fallen that the conference that once wanted nothing to do with the Minutemen, might come calling. Sources connected to the Big East have confirmed that UMass is on their radar and several media outlets have reported the same thing.

But this isn’t or won’t be the Big East that they dreamed about. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are gone to the ACC and UConn is expected to announce its intention to follow shortly. Rutgers, not that anyone ever really daydreamed about games with Rutgers, is off to the Big Ten.

It’s a reasonably good bet that either Louisville or Cincinnati, or maybe both, could be elsewhere (Big 12?) as well when the dust settles. If it ever eventually settles again.

Boise State and San Diego State, who were supposed to be joining the Big East in 2014, are likely headed back to the Mountain West, following TCU’s lead of joining and leaving the Big East without ever playing a game there. There’s no more automatic bid to lucrative BCS bowls to make schlepping east financially desirable for either school. Boise can earn a spot in a playoff just as effectively without needing to play time-zone hopscotch to get there.

The Big East UMass would be looking at would probably feature a football league of Temple, South Florida, Central Florida, Memphis, Navy, Houston and Southern Methodist.

The basketball league includes Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette and DePaul.

UMass makes sense for the Big East for a couple of reasons. At least for now, the conference is trying to maintain its odd alliance of football and basketball schools, and the Minutemen offer something to both.

For the football schools, UMass is a functional up-and-running Bowl Subdivision program. Sure, things are still in its infancy, but there’s enough resources in place to think the Minutemen can be competitive with the perennial powerhouses that are South Florida, Memphis and Temple.

For the basketball schools, UMass is a football school that is good enough in basketball now with resources and potential to continue to improve. While it looks like geography has forever faded from relevance, for smaller schools it still matters because of travel costs. For St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown and Villanova the ability for their Olympic teams to have another program they can bus to is a huge benefit. Big-budget, football-driven athletic departments can fly their field hockey teams all over the place. Not so easy for everybody else.

UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said he’s “monitoring the situation,” his standard close-to-the-vest answer without elaborating further.

The questions that he and UMass officials need to consider are: Is what’s left of the Big East better, and safer, than where UMass already is? And, is that situation better than where the Minutemen are already?

Right now, if Louisville and Cincy leave, the Mid-American Conference is a better football league than the new Big East.

Basketball is not as obvious. Without the defectors, the Big East basketball league isn’t drastically better than the A-10, although its schools’ name recognition is still worth something. But what if the long-rumored split between football and basketball eventually happens? Does UMass want to be forced to play basketball in the football league? Would staying in the MAC and the Atlantic 10 be a risk because a Big East football/basketball schism could lead to the Big East basketball league plucking Xavier, Dayton, etc. from the Atlantic 10, leaving UMass in a worse place basketballwise.

The once swanky neighborhood that was the Big East has fallen into disrepair. Getting involved now could be buying low if it rises again or it could be disaster. Should be interesting to monitor.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.